Hyperbaric oxygen nurses work with oxygen therapy that helps patients recover from medical conditions such as carbon monoxide poisoning, diabetic foot ulcers, burns and bone infections. A patient is placed into a hyperbaric oxygen chamber for a painless, high pressure treatment involving immersion in pure oxygen. Nurses provide for the safe operation of these chambers and monitor the patients inside.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy involves placing patients into chambers designed to fit one or more people at a time. Pure oxygen is pumped into the chamber and maintained at two to three times the normal atmospheric pressure. A patient in an hyperbaric oxygen chamber can take in up to three times more oxygen than possible when breathing under normal conditions. This boost of oxygen triggers the body to release growth factors and stem cells that expedite or promote healing. The duration of the treatment depends on the type of illness and the amount of treatments needed.
Patient Safety and Comfort
Part of a nurse's duty involves ensuring safe conditions are met and keeping patients comfortable. Due to the high flammability of oxygen, hyperbaric oxygen nurses must make sure no patient wears petroleum or alcohol based products such as hair spray that could trigger a dangerous fire. These nurses remain in constant contact with patients, helping them to remain relaxed and instructing them through breathing exercises to reduce the risk of seizure from oxygen toxicity, and to periodically pop their ears to reduce pressure on the ear drums.
At the end of the treatment, the hyperbaric oxygen nurse slowly depressurizes the chamber until the pressure inside the chamber matches that outside. During depressurization, the air inside the chamber begins to cool. The nurse continues to monitor the patient and provide instructions to ensure the patient knows what to expect, remains comfortable and remembers to breathe normally.
Post Treatment Instructions
After treatment, nurses check to see if patients are experiencing any problems. Post-treatment side effects can include feeling dizzy or lightheaded and experiencing ear or sinus pressure. Bleeding from the ears and temporary vision changes are examples of less common and more severe side effects to which the nurse must remain alert. Hyperbaric oxygen nurses also review follow-up instructions with patients, stressing the importance of avoiding tobacco to help prolong the effects of the treatment.